CLT airport workers rally for better pay, safer working conditions

Hundreds of people attended a rally in support of aviation employees Tuesday near Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CLT). Charlotte’s rally is one of three held as part of a national effort to secure higher wages, safer working conditions and healthcare for airline and airport service workers.

The rallies are planned at American Airlines hubs in Charlotte, Phoenix and Dallas airports. The Charlotte airport is one of the world’s busiest and is the second-largest hub for American Airlines.

American Airlines employs about 12,000 of the 20,000 people working at Charlotte-Douglas, according to the City of Charlotte’s website.

In a press release sent Monday about the rally, organizers mentioned the Black, brown and immigrant workforces as the majority of airline service workers. The release noted that many of these employees are “being paid poverty wages” in comparison to airline revenue.

The release said “Tuesday’s action will be the culmination of airport service workers across the country raising their voices to demand a reckoning across a system built in favor of profit-hungry corporations and major airlines.”

American Airlines produced $49 billion in revenue in 2022, “resulting in full-year profitability,” according to a January statement on the airline’s website.

One goal of the rally is to get the attention of Congress. Rallygoers are pushing to have their demands — better wage and benefit, affordable healthcare and paid time off protections — written into the FAA Reauthorization bill, a 2023 bill that promotes worker safety, increase transparency for consumer protections and addresses workforce shortages that contribute to airline delays and cancellations.

Working conditions

Rally organizers allege unsafe and hazardous working conditions at airports throughout the country, including lack of protections during extreme heat.

Rally organizers said in the release that some airport employees often work in “100+ degree weather without access to water or healthcare,” increasing the likelihood of dangerous heat-related illness.

“We’re short staffed because the pay and benefits are not enough for what we do. I’m working in 95-degree water, carrying heavy bags of trash off planes without easy access to water,” Shonda Barber, who works for a company called JetStream that services American Airlines, said in a statement. 

Another JetStream employee, Katie Ossen, who cleans cabins on American Airlines, said she became ill at work due to the heat.

“I had to be transported in a wheelchair to the break room,” Otten said in a statement. “I was too sick to walk from the heat. I ended up in the hospital, where they diagnosed me with heat exhaustion and dehydration.”

An American Airlines worker who asked that his name not be used because he fears retaliation said management lacks a sense of urgency around addressing employee safety concerns.

“I noticed this summer that [some people] were outside much more because of summer travel,” he told QCity Metro. “And there weren’t enough water breaks or anyone making sure people were staying hydrated because it was so busy.”

Within a four-hour window, the employee said, he might be assigned to service five or more planes, with limited time to hydrate or rest in between. He said he’s seen people become physically ill from the exhaustion.

Pay concerns

Another demand from rallygoers is better wages and pay practices.

Barber said she’s “barely surviving” on what she earns.

Smith said sometimes, he and his colleagues are asked to begin working before they are officially on the clock. “Just before we clock in for our shift, they want us to start working, using equipment and stuff like that,” he told QCity Metro.

“If I have to work at 9, I have to be there 30 minutes prior to set up for my work day but I’m not being paid for that time,” he said.

“We are already struggling with low wages and lack of benefits,” Otten said in a statement. “We shouldn’t have to worry about risking our lives when we go to work.”

*QCity Metro spoke with this person under requested anonymity. He is referred to as Terrance Smith throughout this article.

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